Tag Archives: tech skills

Further Questions: How important is knowledge of specific tools?

Here’s penultimate question in a series of six from the reader who asked when candidates shouldn’t applyif current employment status matters, how the initial selection of candidate works, and for some cover letter hooks that worked. This week I asked people who hire librarians:

As archivists and librarians, the tools we learn are a bit of a crapshoot. How important is that an applicant have previous knowledge in the specific tools or system that your library uses? Is it very important, we will not consider an applicant without that experience/ideal, but we will consider someone with training as a substitute (example: took EAD course but did not use EAD in a job), it’s more important that someone is willing to learn new technology and tools (perhaps demonstrated by the other tools they already know), or something else entirely?
Petra MauerhoffGenerally, we are more interested in how you can move forward with us. How adaptable are you in learning new tools? How flexible are you in helping us find more efficient and effective work flows?
Having experience with the same ILS or other tools we use helps, because we know it will cut down some of the required training and we like having someone with experience who might bring a different perspective. However, it is not a must and we have hired people whose experience was with completely different tools and have found their background and experience brought valuable contributions to our work environment.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System

Christine Hage - Dark backgroundWhen I’m hiring a librarian I assume they are coming with a basic knowledge of library research tools. I often ask them to list 10 tools they would include in their reference collection if they could only work from those 10 tools. Personally I don’t have 10 favorite tools, but I’d like to see if they can go through Dewey and give me an encyclopedia, dictionary, atlas, almanac, or even the Internet and some favorite websites or search engines as a basic tools. I’m amazed at how often a candidate cannot name 3 tools. This certainly is not a deal breaker question for me because I know people are nervous at interviews, but it can provide an interesting peek into their thought process.

I am interested in know if they are familiar with any library automation systems. It doesn’t have to be our system (Polaris), but learning an automation system from scratch is a bit of a training hurdle. If they can use one system, they can easily learn another. If they aren’t even aware of library automation software that would be a problem. In terms of software, I want people to be familiar with the basic Microsoft programs and a web management tool, like Joomla. In our library the website is managed by a team so it wouldn’t be the responsibility of one person, but if they have the concept of how a website is built and managed that is a good sign to me.

I’m assuming that most Librarian I candidates are coming with a common core of knowledge. I’m much more concerned about their customer service, team work, leadership, problem solving and creative skills. We can teach someone to go to a specific resource that they aren’t familiar with, but it is very tough to teach someone to smile and be welcoming to each and every customer when that is not his or her natural outlook on library service.

– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library

Melanie LightbodyIt depends on the the tool. If you’re applying for a cataloging job you need to be familiar with cataloging rules (AACR, RDA etc). If you are applying for a reference position, it is more important that you understand a systematic approach to reference work than it is to know the intricacies of any one tool. The question would be how much of the position you are applying for includes usage of a specific tool. As a rule of thumb, I favor a broader knowledge of systems over specific tool knowledge. My experience is those who understand the bigger picture do better day to day at their job. And yes, demonstrated willingness to learn would give weight to your app.

– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County

Marleah AugustineI think that a willingness to learn is the most important thing. Experience with the exact same tech and tools is great, but experience with similar tools can be just as good. Knowing that someone took a course about a particular tool but doesn’t actively use it at least lets us know that they have been exposed to it and are aware of it. I will not discount someone just because they don’t know our specific systems and software, but it is helpful to know what the applicant has used and what they know.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Emilie SmartIt is unrealistic to expect every candidate to have experience on specific tools.  Not every library uses the same things to do the same work — ILS’s are different, databases, books…  Tool availability is often more budget-based than need-based.
I expect reference candidates to have experience doing some reference work.  They should know how to search a database, conduct a reference interview, create a spreadsheet, manipulate HTML code.  I don’t care if they are familiar with Sirsi or Innovative or if they’ve never used a Gale database because their previous library subscribed to EBSCO.  Using our available tools is part of our training process, so what tools they have experience with is less important than what kind of tools they have experience with.
– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library
J. McRee Elrod
Very important is knowledge is standards: ISBD, AACR2/RDA, MARC, LCC (and/or DDC), LCSH, probably OCLC, and in some situations NLM/MeSH and RVM.  It helps to have used a cataloguing software and an ILS, but considering their variety, experience with particular ones is less important.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Manya ShorrAt this point in my management career, I almost always put customer service skills above experience when it comes to hiring front line staff. We have too many people in our profession that don’t seem to want to work with the public and I feel like it is my duty to help turn that around. If someone is dedicated, curious, and willing to try I figure I can teach them anything. It is, however, difficult to teach anyone to be nice and welcoming. In other words, when you interview with me, please demonstrate that you are excited to work with the public. You can do this by smiling, maintaining eye contact, and answering the questions in an enthusiastic way. This doesn’t mean be maniacal, just act like you want the job. I’m willing to train and teach you!

– Manya Shorr, Senior Manager, Branch Services, Omaha Public Library

If a person is willing to learn new technology, doesn’t have a fear of it, or of constantly changing technology and other things in libraries, i.e can go with the flow—I would still consider or hire them if they didn’t have the exact type of technology or online systems my library uses. It is very helpful, and may make someone stand out, if they have worked in a library with the same online systems, and knows other technologies in the job description. But I believe that most people who are adept at using technology, enjoy it, and have no problem learning new technologies, can do so on the job. I guess the trick is convincing me as an employer, that the aforementioned “adeptness and willingness to learn” is indeed a trait of the applicant.

– Sharon Britton, Library Director, BGSU – Firelands

Marge Loch-WoutersThis is less important to us in Youth Services at our library – no doubt because we are on the slightly low-tech side. We feel that learning any specific tools and technology (beyond a basic familiarity with windows office suite; some digital toys like ipads or ereaders or social media) are part of training. We commit ourselves to our new hires to train them in this so knowing our ILS or specific hardware or software rarely plays a part in our decision.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Samantha Thompson-Franklin

I think it’s more important to show evidence of being willing to learn new tools and technologies, with specific examples of what you learned and how you used or applied it. Tools and technologies can come and go, and while it can be important to know certain tools, I think that one’s willingness and ability to learn new applications says a lot to a search committee.

– Samantha Thompson-Franklin, Associate Professor/Collections & Acquisitions Librarian, Lewis-Clark State College Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. 

If you’re interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

And thanks to YOU for reading! Comment, Eileen, taloo rah


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public, Special

Further Questions: What are the most important “tech skills”?

This week I have another question from a reader.  I asked people who hire librarians:

Everyone says it’s important for candidates to have “tech skills”. Can you please explain what, exactly, tech skills are?  I realize it varies depending on position, but what would you say are the most important programs and proficiencies for candidates, and why?

“Tech skills.” OK – I expect anyone I hire at any level (clerk to professional) to know the vocabulary of computers – that is, words like icon, program, mouse, hard drive, disk, thumb drive, monitor, cable, etc. so they can explain to the repair person more than just “the little girl in the corner isn’t coming up.” (Oh yes. Exactly)

I expect anyone I hire at any level to know basic mouse use, keyboarding (don’t have to be fast but should not “hunt and peck”), how to set up and use an email program, how to use a word processing program to write, find and print documents; and familiarity enough with using computers to learn the online catalog and circulation system, change the printer paper, turn on and turn off the equipment properly, and know to look to see if it is plugged in when it won’t turn on.

Then, for the professional staff, all should be able to learn our ILS system and have the technical skills sufficient to teach it to others as well as the technical skills to do basic computer upkeep – download and install upgrades, keep the security system updated, and basic computer installation (taking it out of the box, plugging in all the parts, and making it work). Also the skills and background knowledge to easily learn and teach the operation of other equipment as necessary – microfilm machines, digital projectors, fax machines, etc., and explain to a patron how to download an audiobook or an eBook from our collection.

If we start talking a special technology person, it gets very intense up to taking apart and fixing, but basic “tech skills.” There you have it.

And if we want to talk tech skills in the generic – it doesn’t hurt knowing how to plunge a toilet or change a light bulb – just saying.

– Dusty Snipes Grès, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System

Tech skills for my public library mean two things. 1) What we used to call BI back in the day. Especially for public service librarians, I don’t want to hire anyone who would not have the sufficient skills to understand and to train the users in basic computer skills (how to set up email, how to look for a job, how to use software, basic search strategies). 2) Any librarian or library staff member needs to be able to troubleshoot minor software issues and to understand and follow the instructions of our IT staff when troubleshooting and repairing over the telephone. Where I have worked in the past, getting timely service from IT may be impossible. I don’t want our public computers to sit idle any longer than necessary.

– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County

Laurie PhillipsAs you say, the exact skills and the level of expectation will vary depending on the position but there are some good general rules of thumb where technology and libraries are concerned. What we mean is that the person should have the ability to learn and adapt to changes in technology quickly and easily. For tech services, I need people who are willing and able to use software to track and analyze data. Using Excel or similar software to be able to show trends and analysis is crucial. And, as I mentioned, you need to be able to quickly adjust when software is upgraded or changed. You also need to be comfortable enough with technology and software that you can demonstrate it to faculty and students and troubleshoot their problems. At the very least, you should be proficient in using Office, but then there are so many other possibilities to understand and learn – system software, vendor websites, presentation software such as Camtasia, web authoring software, and on and on. Catalogers should be comfortable with how systems use data to interact with one another. Not that you need to know every kind of software, but you should be completely comfortable with learning and adopting new software and technology.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

For reference positions, I would think Web searching would be very important.  Familiarity with ILS and OPAC selection and use is important.  For cataloguers, familiarity with online resources (such as the Library of Congress online catalogue and authorities, MARC21, and OCLC) are a priority.  How to use MARCReport and other automated aids is helpful.  Ability to program would be a plus.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Emilie SmartTech skills vary by department I’m sure, but the absolute minimum required to work in the Reference dept at my library are:

Proficiency in MS Office applications (extra points for Access proficiency).  In other words, know how to format a document, change its font, insert an image; understand how a spreadsheet works, plug in a formula, sort by various schemes; create a birthday card or a newsletter; create a basic powerpoint presentation.  We assist patrons with these skills every day.

Be able to write basic html code from scratch (no Dreamweaver or other html editor).  This includes inserting URLs and images, creating tables, creating ordered and unordered lists.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve asked an interviewee if they know how to write basic html and they tell me, “I know how to use Dreamweaver…”   Yeah, but can you clean up the mess you made with it?  We maintain a lot of library website real estate and staff must have a basic knowledge of html in order to do this efficiently and effectively.  But even if you never have to actually write code, it helps to speak the same language as the webmaster.

Understand the basic workings of a computer.  Understand basic computer terminology.  Understand files — what they are and where they live on the computer.  Understand how to save, copy, drag…  We instruct patrons daily.

Understand basic internet functions:  upload, download, social media in all its varieties, forums, email, texting, RSS…  Know what an embed code is and where to put it.  We help patrons with this all the time and we use all of these things ourselves.  A basic understanding is essential.

Know how to edit an image, i.e., resize or crop at the very least.  See above.

Know what ebooks are and how to access/use them.  Familiarity with a variety of devices is great too.  We have Overdrive; our patrons have every device on the planet — and don’t know how to use them.  Staff MUST be able to help them out.

Know how to search a database whether you’ve used it or not and be able to recognize or describe features that you expect to see in a database (saved searches, permalinks, citation assistance, etc.).  We have loads of databases covering the entire Dewey range and we often have to instruct patrons on how to use databases that we don’t use regularly.  It helps if you know how databases work, how they are organized, and what features to look for.

Know how to get on a wireless connection.   Know how to set up a projector to use with a computer.  Know how to skype.  Know how to use a smartphone and/or tablet.  Things we do on a regular basis for outreach, programs, reference…

Basically, the more you know about computers, software and the internet, the better.

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

Marge Loch-WoutersIf it’s a generalist position (adult reference; children’s reference), we like to see people who are proficient in the Microsoft office suite; understand and can use Adobe; aren’t afraid to drive a computer around; understand wikis; can upload files; read blogs or have a blog; are proficient and aware of social media as it relates to libraries and can open a printer, pull out the cartridge and replace it.  Bonus points if the candidates have used ipads/itouch/iphone/kindles and nooks. We have tech support in other positions in the library.  For the generalist, our expectation is that we don’t have to teach or encourage them to know what are essentially “basics” for us.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

I agree with your reader in that which technology skills are needed can vary quite widely with the type of job and organisation – from online subscription database sources for a private sector business researcher, to library management systems at a public library, Moodle/Blackboard or other VLE systems in academia or MS Sharepoint or other content management or EDRM systems to manage records or an intranet.
Something that is becoming a necessary skill in common across lots of different roles and environments are web2.0 and social media skills.  Whether used for internal communication, organising workflow or sharing files, or for external advocacy and marketing, facility with these technologies is rapidly becoming a core ability.
Over time, there will probably be other systems and technologies becoming common place, so I would say the most vital skill of all is the confidence and curiosity to experiment and play with these as they arrive, so that librarians remain at the forefront of information handing and can best help their patrons.
– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.

Terry Ann LawlerIf we are totally honest with ourselves, sometimes even WE don’t really know what we mean by ‘tech skills’.  For example, sometimes, it just means ‘can you move a mouse and navigate google?’

Usually, what I mean is that I want someone who has more than the average ‘checkmyfacebookandemailtentimesaday’ person.  I need someone who isn’t afraid to troubleshoot a printing problem, who can replace a CPU and who already knows how to search a database including advanced searching.  You probably don’t have to know where a sound card plugs in, but it would be nice.  It grueling to start a new employee and find out that they can’t navigate basic computer systems and are afraid to click anything for fear of breaking the computer.  It is very hard on my staff and myself to train a new employee in basic computer skills at the same time as we are training them in building safety, copy-write, library policies, ILL, etc. 

I also, usually, mean that I want someone who can work in MS Word and Excel and other popular software programs at more than a basic level so that they can help customers with their resumes or other issues.  And, I want someone who has some knowledge of Internet resources that are helpful.  Most college graduates today can do these things.  If you find that you can’t, you should probably take a class or two.  In fact, there may be some for free at your local library;)

I don’t normally put tech skills into my hiring matrix criteria unless I’m down to being the only person in the building who can replace a monitor.   However, when it is mentioned on a resume, that perks up my eyes.  If you have tech skills, or have taken classes or are certified, I highly recommend putting that in your resume in the skills section.  Even if you aren’t using the exact same computer systems and software, I can at least see that you have the ability to learn those things and you probably know enough to carry you through new systems.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading! And I encourage you to try here that after-reading breath freshener, the com-mint.

*Edited 8/10/2012 11:15 AM PST to add response from T. Lawler.


Filed under Further Questions